TODD, Sir Charles (1826-1910)


TODD, Sir Charles (1826-1910)
postmaster-general and government astronomer, South Australia
son of G. Todd, was born at Islington, London, on 7 July 1826, and was educated at Greenwich. In December 1841 he entered the service of the royal observatory, Greenwich, under Sir George Airey and in 1846 was one of the earliest observers of the planet Neptune. He was appointed assistant astronomer at the Cambridge observatory in 1847, and in May 1854 was placed in charge of the galvanic department at Greenwich. In February 1855, he accepted the positions of superintendent of telegraphs and government astronomer to South Australia. He arrived at Adelaide on 5 November 1855 and found his department a very small one without a single telegraph line. The first line was opened in February 1856, and in June of that year he recommended that a line between Adelaide and Melbourne should be constructed. He personally rode over much of the country through which the line would have to pass. In 1859 he conceived the idea of the transcontinental line from Adelaide to Darwin. Most of the country in between except for the explorations of Sturt (q.v.) and others was unknown, and it was many years before Todd could convince the South Australian government of the practicability of the scheme. In 1868 the direct line between Adelaide and Sydney was completed and was used to determine the 141st meridian, the boundary line between South Australia and Victoria. Todd's calculations showed it to be 2¼ miles farther east than had previously been determined. This led to the long-drawn-out dispute between the two colonies. By 1870 it had been decided that the transcontinental line should be constructed though the other colonies declined to share in the cost. The southern and northern sections of the line were let by contract, and the 1000 miles in between was constructed by the department. The contractor at the northern end threw up his contract and Todd had to go to the north himself and finish it. Everything had to be sent by sea and then carted, but he met each difficulty as it arose, and overcame it successfully. The line was completed on 22 August 1872, but the cable to Darwin had broken and communication with England was not effected until 21 October. Todd had been given the position of postmaster-general in 1870, and henceforth ruled as a benevolent autocrat thoroughly trusted by his staff and the ministers in charge of his department. His next great work was a line of about 1000 miles to Eucla, establishing communication between Adelaide and Perth. In 1885 he attended the international telegraphic conference at Berlin. He continued to control his department with ability, and when the colonies were federated in 1901 it was found that, in spite of its large area and sparse population, South Australia was the only one whose post and telegraphic department was carried on at a profit. Todd continued in office as deputy-postmaster-general until 1905.
Though so much of his time was taken up by the duties of the postal department, Todd did not neglect his work as government astronomer. The observatory was thoroughly equipped with astronomical and meteorological instruments, and he contributed valuable observations to the scientific world on the transits of Venus in 1874 and 1882, the cloudy haze over Jupiter in 1876, the parallax of Mars in 1878, and on other occasions. He took much interest in meteorology and enlisted his army of postal officials as meteorological observers. He selected the site of the new observatory for Perth in 1895 and advised on the building and instruments to be obtained. He was the author of numerous papers on scientific subjects, many of which were printed in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. He retired in December 1906 having been over 51 years in the service of the South Australian government. He retained his vigour of mind and much of his bodily activity until shortly before his death near Adelaide on 29 January 1910. Todd was a leading spirit in the Royal Society of South Australia, the Astronomical Society, and the Institute of Surveyors, he was on the council of the university, and was vice-president of the board of trustees of the public library, museum and art gallery. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1864 and of the Royal Society in 1889. He was an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Cambridge gave him the honorary degree of M.A. in 1886, and he was created C.M.G. in 1872 and K.C.M.G. in 1893. He married in 1855 Alice Gillam, daughter of E. Bell of Cambridge, who died in 1898, and was survived by a son and four daughters. His daughter, Gwendoline, married Professor, afterwards Sir William Henry Bragg, O.M., F.R.S (q.v.), and became the mother of Sir William Lawrence Bragg, F.R.S.
Todd was a man of great amiability and kindness. His besetting weakness was a habit of punning, but some of his playing with words was very good. When asked by a steward would he have some tea he replied, "Oh, yes, without T, I would be odd." He was extremely able, painstaking and industrious, a good judge of men who was honoured by his subordinates and trusted by politicians. He did valuable astronomical and meteorological work, he developed and managed the South Australian post and telegraph department with complete success, and his building of the transcontinental telegraph line in the conditions then existing was a remarkable achievement.
The Advertiser, Adelaide, 31 January 1910; The Register, Adelaide, 31 January 1910; Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, February 1911, p. 272; J. H. Heaton, Australian Dictionary of Dates.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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